Sunday, January 31, 2010

and so we build our lives.

Perhaps it is because I just finished reading this book by this man, which on top of making me cry every time I sat down to read (and I'm talking about the audible, gasping, non-attractive kind of crying here), made me think a great deal about story and what it is that makes something epic and beautiful. Perhaps it is because I am finally entering a relatively calm stage of this early post-collegiate-20-something-with-a-full-time-job life. Or perhaps it is because living alone affords me an opportunity to be more introspective and thoughtful.

Whatever the reason, I have been thinking lately about life in general. When people ask me for an update on my life, I tell them I am learning about balance. And frankly, this is about all I can handle right now, this project of learning how to safely juggle the flaming clubs of a full-time work week, sleep, exercise, preparing food, growing my relationships with those I care for, engaging in my community, keeping my sinks and floors clean and maintaining my education and awareness of current events (many thanks to NPR and the BBC).

I've also been thinking about how important it has become to me to have what I consider a meaningful career, though I get stuck on this one, because I realize that it is an incredible privilege to be that picky. Many do not have the education or social positioning to be choosy about a job, even in a good economy. And it doesn't seem right or fair that people have to devote 40+ hours a week to work that they don't find meaningful in order to keep the heat on and put the food in the refrigerator to enable them to live another day to wake and return to that job and make the most and wait for the weekend.

But I do think that we are called to steward well whatever resources we have been given, and this pursuit of vocational calling remains important to me. At present, I have a job I enjoy relatively well, and my organization pursues a mission that has become very important to me. But my work doesn't bring any excess of joy when I start my commute to the office in the morning, clutching my coffee in my mittened hand. And as much as I can wrap my mind and heart around the importance of what we do, it doesn't (routinely) make me choke back tears upon sight of a photograph or a few words of a story. Now, mind you, I am VERY thankful for my job. And I'm not leaving too soon. But I'm also not going to stop seeking a career more directly focused on the things that make my blood run (thanks, KP).

So as I think about life and balance and vocation and with my peers ask the same questions over and over again and become entranced by the lives that people older than I have created throughout their years, I come to this: as we go through our days, making decisions and weaving in and out of one another's stories, we build our lives. And as I stand here in this season, with my plans and dreams still in flux, I am truly beginning to build a life.

This feels like a larger version of my current project of settling into this new home... As I stock my shelves with spices and flours and sugars, so also I piece together the elements of my life, finding how to best fit everything that a healthy and faithful and full life necessitates. As I arrange and rearrange the books on my shelves, so also I made decisions about the shape of my life.

I was thinking about this when I went to get my hair cut on Saturday morning down at my hairdresser's shop/home down on Division, which is filled with the most eclectic and lovely vintage clothing and handmade treasures. As she cut my hair, I thought about how my friend is part of that store, part of why I go there again and again and why I didn't mind getting up early on a Saturday morning to fit an appointment into her busy schedule. The next customer clearly felt the same, bringing baked goods from a local bakery that she shared with both of us, and we talked and laughed and the sun streamed through the windows and the stranger with hair dye on her roots didn't care that I saw the hair dye on her roots. I lingered in the middle of my friend's beautiful life, a life that didn't come easily but rather on the heels of a realization that she didn't find an earlier version of her life fulfilling. So she built a more beautiful story, from vintage boots and silver earrings and carefully swept floors and honesty and laughter.

My friend Nicole has a beautiful life as well. She knows what she is called to, at least in part, and so she lives with confidence. She is a mother and an artist, and she speaks truth all over my life. When I see her sweep into a room with strength and grace and humility, I know I am okay, and when we part, I remember that the world is beautiful and that I have a story to live, too, even if I am not sure of all its elements.

I searched for a tablecloth for the little square table in my front room until I found the perfect one at a nearby antique store: it is a cream colored square of exactly the right size, with brightly colored flowers stitched into a lovely and graceful pattern, the bumpy knobs of thread popping their rounded heads out of the soft fabric. And so also I hang pictures and twinkle lights and silver stars on the walls of my life; I stack my brightly colored bowls and buy ingredients for banana bread and big pots of soup.

And slowly I build a life.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I don’t have any one specific point to make today, just a few thoughts to offer, and as I haven't posted for so long, I feel quite alright forgoing my usual attempt at a thematic post. I hope you all are well, and many apologies for my brief absence!

Life continues, and it really is good and altogether quite lovely. I recently celebrated a birthday, enjoying the company of my parents and lunch at my favorite restaurant ever (free of charge as a birthday gift from the kind owners of said restaurant!) the weekend before, a peaceful dinner with a few of my dearest friends at another favorite the night of and a small potluck this past weekend, which also served to christen my new home--more on that in a moment. I love potlucks. At this particular potluck, I gave very few specifics when asking people to bring a dish to pass, which resulted in a meal consisting of my big pot of vegetarian chili and batch of Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies and guests' contributions of eight bottles of red wine, five types of bread, two batches of hummus and Dave's promised package of Oreos. As one friend very aptly put it, it looked like a glorified communion. But the 20-or-so of us ate well, laughed much and were happy.

I am feeling somewhat old, in the most positive sense, of course, at what I realize is still quite a young age. As I begin this new year of living, I have once again been thinking about everything I have learned in the past few years, but particularly in the past few months, and how very glad I am to be in this post-collegiate, great big world before me, young single and free, idealistic and hopeful stage of life. Honestly, my friends, the world is glorious! There is so much life to be lived! There is so much hope to be held! It is not always easy or beautiful, I know, especially at first glance, but I am convinced more and more each day that we must indeed choose joy if we are to have it.

In other news, I have been working full-time since the start of the month at a job that most days I like reasonably well, and I recently poached my first egg. Today I am wearing dark pink tights, which, as always, is making me feel a little better about the world, and I wrote/edited up a storm at work today. A storm, people. And finally, most excitingly, I have moved yet again and am now happily settled into a new little place in a big old purple house. I love it. I think it is absolutely perfect. The space, the location, the hardwood floors and brightly colored walls, that amazing little hutch in the kitchen, the fact that the kitchen is so adorably tiny, the pocket door between the two biggest rooms, the footsteps of my upstairs neighbors, the bay window above my bed. With all respect and love to past roommates, I have not been this happy to come home in a very, very long time. Goodness, I haven't felt this at home while home in a very, very long time. Furthermore, when one of my landlords asked me to be sure to regularly take out the trash because they do not have mice in this house and told me that they have all of the paint colors to touch up my walls once I’ve decorated and explained that I could call if it gets too cold and they would come adjust the heat, I wanted to throw my arms around him and embrace him and then burst into tears of pure joy. I didn't. But let me tell you, I was very close. All that to say that I love this new little place of mine. Come visit anytime. I have a fold-out couch. And leftover wine. Just saying.

To close this post, as it is Martin Luther King Jr. day, I offer a few of his own beautiful words, with somber reflection on our soiled human history, recognition of the inexplicable and confounding tragedy that has now fallen upon Haiti, awareness of our brokenness and the brokenness of this world and persistent hope for the future:

“Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long-but-beautiful-struggle for a new world.”

Amen. Let us begin indeed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

cocoa almond meringues and a new year.

Happy New Year, dear ones! I hope that you are enjoying this close of the holiday season, celebrating the year that has ended (and possibly that the year has ended; that’s okay, too) and looking ahead with hope to 2010, a new year promising new adventure, new joy, new beauty.

I have learned so much in this year, mostly adult/real world kinds of lessons that were not always enjoyable but brought new and beautiful depth to my life. At the end of four years filled with good, solid academic education (which I loved), I learned how to finish well and how to close and then open chapters of my life, how to say goodbye well and how to stay in touch (an ongoing lesson). I learned how difficult it really is to find a job in this economy and how to piece paychecks together and how little I really need to sustain myself. I learned how to best fit all of my belongings in my car when moving and how to ask for help. I learned more about loving well and about making hard decisions (although I still have a long way to go on both of those).

This year, I have come to see more clearly that in every situation, there are difficult and painful things as well as beautiful and very, very good things. I have learned how to first see that whole honest picture of my life and to then cling to and give thanks for the good things... a job, a roof over my head, food on my table, people to eat it with, the amount of justice and freedom I’m afforded. It could all be otherwise.

And this year, I learned the truth of something I always knew in my head but maybe not deep in my bones: that God is always faithful, regardless.

To celebrate the old year and welcome the new, here is what I would call a celebratory recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s big and incredible cookbook, Baking: From my home to yours. I got this book from my cousin for Christmas, and I’ve already paged through the whole thing at least twice. Great recipes, beautiful photographs. I made these meringues first, and they are delightful: light and airy on the outside and dense and slightly chewy on the inside. They are craggy and beautiful, rich with chocolate and a hint of almond, and they are amazing. AMAZING. Happy new year indeed.

Cocoa Almond Meringues
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my home to yours

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting
1/3 cup finely ground almonds
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

Position the racks in the oven to divide it into thirds, and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats (I just purchased my first silicone baking mat with Christmas money from my grandparents, and it is incredible!).

Mix together the confectioners’ sugar, ground almonds and cocoa.

Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment or a hand mixer in a large, dry bowl, whip the egg whites and salt at medium speed until the whites are opaque. Increase the speed to medium-high or high and continue whipping, adding the sugar about a tablespoon at a time. Whip until the whites are firm, hold stiff peaks and are very shiny. This will take a very long time, up to 15 or 20 minutes (so don’t panic if it seems like nothing is happening!). Beat in the vanilla.

Quickly and gently fold the dry ingredients and then the chopped chocolate into the egg whites. Work with a light touch to minimize the deflation of the egg whites, but realize that they will deflate somewhat, regardless.

Drop the meringue by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Dust them lightly with confectioners’ sugar (very pretty).

Place the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Then, without opening the oven door, reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees F, and bake for one hour more. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow the meringues to cool. Peel them off of the parchment paper or silicone mats. Marvel at their loveliness and enjoy!

Store the meringues in a cool, dry environment, either in an airtight container or uncovered in a basket at room temperature.

Yield: about 30 little chocolaty mountains

So may this year be filled with laughter, new lessons to humbly learn, community and good meals shared with friends, and much beauty and thankfulness throughout your days. May this year bring more justice and more peace in our homes, neighborhoods, cities, countries and world, and may we live and love with more compassion and grace and hope.

It’s a new year.